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Issue 51 – May 2005

Hi Andy,

Is there a written restriction that disallows a Pack Committee Chairman from being it’s sister Troop’s Scoutmaster? (Jim Viser, UC, Colonial Virginia Council, Suffolk, VA)

Yup, there sure is a “written restriction” on being chair of one unit and SM of another… It’s called…(are your ready)…divorce papers!

Actually, despite the significant negative impact this kind of situation can have on one’s family in general and spouse in particular, there is no BSA policy that specifically prohibits this. It is, however, dangerous, and I personally wouldn’t recommend it– too much Scouting can produce severe lumps on the head, inflicted by the neglected family members!

That said, sometimes a person will do this kind of “double-duty” not out of a spirit of volunteerism but because they’re control freaks or have delusions of being emperor. If that’s what’s going on, there are definitely ways for a unit (Pack or Troop) to put a stop to the shenanigans. Read some of my earlier columns and you’ll find some cases, or write again if I’m close to what’s really going on here.

Dear Andy,

I’m looking for examples of formal presentation ceremonies for the Ranger Award in Venturing and I can’t locate any. Something like the Eagle ceremony…? (Doug Czaplicki, ASM, Troop 43, Cairo, NY)

There are lots of “Eagle ceremonies” available to borrow from or use intact, as written, because there are simply lots more Eagles than Rangers — nationwide, over 40 thousand Eagles last year alone, I think! But, as you probably know, there’s no “official” Eagle ceremony.

There’s no “official” Ranger award ceremony either! Here, you can make up whatever you want! Even to the point of creating an “instant tradition” for your Crew called “The Ranger Challenge,” or “Voice of the Ranger”!!! Creativity is the word of the day, and there are no limits other than propriety and good sense.

That said, you might want to reach out to other Venturing Crews, in your council or on the Web, and see if they’ll share with you what they’ve done! These might inspire you to create something of your own that you and your Crew really like. And there’s nothing wrong with asking Crew members for ideas, too!

Hi Andy,

Within our Troop, there’s always been a question about when the OA sash may be worn. Our OA Lodge Advisor says it’s OK to wear the sash at courts of honor, etc., but our Scoutmaster says it’s never OK, except when the OA representative conducts candidate elections at a Troop meeting. I’ve looked this up and have received contradictory answers. And here’s another one: Is it OK for boys who are Troop members and Venturing Crew members (same chartered organization) to wear the dress Venturing shirt to Troop functions? (By the way, the Crew has elected to use a t-shirt as its uniform, but some members have the dress shirt as well.) Can you help us clear this up? (SER, ASM/VCA, San Diego-Imperial Council, San Diego, CA)

Your first question’s easier to provide a simple answer to than the second. Here goes…

For the OA sash, when it’s worn, it’s only worn over the right shoulder of what’s commonly called the “Class A” uniform. It’s never worn folded over the belt, etc. It’s worn, according to the OA Handbook, “at OA functions and special Scouting activities, when members need to be identified as Arrowmen rendering special services.” Now, how do we interpret this, when it comes to NON-OA activities, like Troop meetings? The easy answer is that, since the OA member is not functioning as such, as in a regular Troop meeting, the sash isn’t a needed part of the uniform. But, what about Courts of Honor? you ask. Well, if the Arrowman (or woman, as the case may be) is already wearing a Lodge pocket flap, then further identification seems hardly necessary. This is especially true if we’re talking about a Scout, and he’s already wearing his merit badge sash, because even Emily Post knows we don’t wear two sashes! (And, no, merit badge sashes aren’t worn draped over belts, either — and that’s according to the BSA Uniform Guide!) Oh? He hasn’t earned his pocket flap (many lodges have certain requirements for earning the flap–they’re not just handed out like free Twinkies) you say? Well, I’d say this: Go out and earn it, if you want to identify yourself as an OA member!

Now, about Venturing uniforms… While there’s nothing I’ve ever seen that specifically prohibits wearing the complete BSA-recommended Venturing uniform (green shirt, gray pants, etc.) at a Troop meeting or function, I’d say if the young man is a member of both the Troop and a Crew, the normal Boy Scout uniform would be worn at Boy Scout functions when he’s functioning as a Boy Scout, saving the Venturing uniform for Crew activities, when he’s functioning as a Venturer. That said, I do know that the green shirt (and only the green shirt — not some tee-shirt) has a certain cachet — it’s a “status symbol,” for gosh sakes! So, forgetting “rules” for just a brief moment (especially since they’re pretty vague in this area to begin with), if the green shirt is something younger Scouts aspire to, and it’s helping keep older youth involved in the program and showing up, then I’d sure not want to throw out the baby with the bathwater! Ya think !?!

Dear Andy,

I have two different questions. The first is: How do you get revisions added to current Merit Badges? The second is: Are unit Committee Chairs required to be uniformed leaders? (John Stracqadanio, CC, Troop 67, Emerson, NJ)

Revisions to merit badges are managed by the national council. They’re the only ones, in fact, who can authorize any revisions to advancement requirements, be it merit badges or ranks. If you have a suggestion, it’s worth writing to the national office (address your letter to the National Director of Advancement) and making your suggestion, along with the support or the rationale for the suggestion.

As for Committee members and the Chair of any unit, no, uniforms are not required. They may, however, be worn if the person so chooses, and of course should be worn correctly and completely (that is, no “shirts only”).

Dear Andy,

It’s my understanding that after turning 18 you can no longer wear a Boy Scout uniform with any Scout rank on it. So, what would be the proper attire to wear at the Eagle Board of Review if it’s after the 18th birthday? Can you wear the uniform without any rank or office, or should you wear a suit? Or, if you’ve been given a position of ASM, can you wear that uniform? And, thanks for your time and effort on these columns! (Will “Buck” Boone)

Purely technically, the Boy Scout becomes an “adult Scouter” on his 18th birthday (if he fills out the adult application, of course) and most likely is now an assistant scoutmaster. If not, he’s still registered as a youth until his Troop’s charter month rolls around again. But, he might also be a Venturer and, as such, still a “youth member” of the BSA, since the age requirements for Venturers extend beyond the 18th birthday, going up to the 21st birthday. However, when it comes to Eagle boards, these usually take place no later than three months after the 18th birthday (after that time, a special letter explaining why the delay occurred must be written to the BSA national office, and folks usually try to avoid having to do this). So, what are we really talking about here? A couple of days? A week or so? If so, my reaction is the same as Shakespeare’s: “much ado about nothing.” So he wears his uniform… Is some “council cop” or member of the “patch police” out there gonna arrest him? Somehow, I don’t think so!

But, as for suits, or jackets-and-ties, I’d personally sure like to see the members of the board itself dressed this way! Not infrequently, the Eagle candidate wears his full uniform and some board member is wearing a tee-shirt with some beer brand emblazoned across the front!

Hi Andy,

I’m writing with a suggestion for S.T. and his situation with the Webelos IIs. Everything you said is true, and good advice. However, it might still be possible for this young man to join another Den and then visit a Troop activity with that Den. This would depend on his age, the availability of another Webelos Den, the boy and his dad’s level of commitment, etc. I bring this up only to offer another solution to this situation. With that said and behind me I have to point out that your remarks on the relative responsibility of the Pack and the boy are right on. The Arrow of Light is definitely not an entitlement, and no one should expect to be awarded any rank just for “time served” or because “all the other guys got it”. Which side does this place me on? I think that if the conditions are right for this Cub to join another Den and complete the badge he should be aware of it, and then choose. My experience with this sort of thing tells me that he or his Dad or both will again find a reason not to participate, but the Pack and Den and their leaders have done their parts to offer the opportunity. If the conditions aren’t right—no other Den, age, etc.—then the Cub missed his opportunity and that’s the end of the story. Like you I hope that he becomes a productive Boy Scout with the personal goal of becoming an Eagle Scout, whether he achieves the AOL or not. (Dennis Fairbairn)

While I’m not sure a new Den would truly be “his” Den, yes, this could be a work-around that might help make the problem go away. But, as you point out, no rank is an “entitlement” (I like the word you used!) and this boy and his father seem to be antithetical of the idea of mutual cooperation. Thanks for writing and expressing some darned good thoughts!

Dear Andy,

I was recently invited to sit on a Board of Review for a neighboring Troop—they had four Scouts up for review for a variety of ranks. It became clear to us that there were discrepancies in the methods employed for signing off on rank requirements. The Board of Review itself consisted of the Committee Chair from my own Troop, the Committee Chair from the Troop I was visiting that night, myself, and a gentleman from the community who had attained Eagle rank as a Scout but who had no present affiliation with any Troop. We found that one Scout had almost exclusively been signed off by his Dad, who’s an ASM with the Troop. Another Scout was signed off by another Scout in the Troop; the third by a combination of Scouts, parents, and the Scoutmaster; and the fourth Scout by a combination that included his brother (who’s an Eagle Scout). In my own home Troop, advancement sign-off done by Life Scouts only, and this is problematic because we don’t have a lot of these and those we do have don’t come to as many Troop meetings and outings as our younger Scouts. So, who, exactly, is supposed to be signing off on advancement requirements? I’ve searched various Web-sites and I’ve searched BSA printed material, but I can’t find a definitive answer and, personally, I find it a little disconcerting that there’s no written policy or procedure. I’m told there’s supposed to be a policy and procedure brochure, but no one in our council knows of it! (LawJock)

Well, I think you visited a Troop that deserves the “Mayhem Award”! What a mess! And the joke is this: The process is a no-brainer. I guess it can be made foolproof, but not idiot-proof.

Let’s first tackle signing off on rank requirements and then cover who sits on boards of review.

For rank requirements and who does what, begin by looking in your son’s Boy Scout Handbook. First, go to the rank requirement pages: 32-33, 64-65, 112-113, 177-178, 180-183, and then 438-449. The first groups of pages are for the Scout to check off as he proceeds; the pages from 438 through 449 contain spaces for the Scoutmaster (Yes, the SCOUTMASTER) to initial. Is there any doubt? Well, read the second footnote on page 33: “As you complete each requirement, ask your Scoutmaster to initial his or her approval on pages…” This footnote is at the bottom of each of the rank requirements check-off pages. Take a look at page 65: There it is again! And so on.

Of course, both fellow Scouts as well as adult leaders other than the Scoutmaster, and even brothers and parents, can help the advancing Scout learn and master the skills and knowledge necessary to meet and complete the requirements. But it’s the Scoutmaster (and only the Scoutmaster) who ultimately signs off, signifying that the requirement is, in fact, completed.

So, you ask, why does it say “Leader” and not “Scoutmaster” on the sign-off pages? Here’s my guess: “Scoutmaster” didn’t fit inside the box provided, so some typesetter changed the word. But that doesn’t change the intent, which has been made very clear on the earlier pages.

Does this mean that the Scoutmaster has to “test” or “re-test” each and every Scout on each and every requirement? Of course not! If, for instance, the advancing Scout and, let’s say, his Patrol Leader or, let’s say, an Assistant Scoutmaster, advise the Scoutmaster that a requirement is completed, then, on the basis of Scout’s Honor, the Scoutmaster can take their word for it and sign the Scout’s Handbook. Done deal! And pretty painless! Need more? Then a simple and brief Scoutmaster’s Conference (you’ve heard of these, I’m guessing!) where the SM and the Scout talk about where, when, with whom, and how the requirements were completed should do the job pretty handily!

Now, let’s take a look at boards of review…

The composition of boards of review is spelled out unequivocally in this BSA book: ADVANCEMENT COMMITTEE POLICIES AND PROCEDURES (this book is available at most Scout Shops and, if not, through the BSA’s Supply Division, which has a Website). It’s real simple. For every rank except Eagle, the composition of the board is this: Members of the Troop Committee. Period. This excludes Scoutmasters and ASMs, too, even when ASMs are registered that way but do committee member work. And, yes, this does mean registered positions; not just “parents who show up.” For Eagle, being a registered adult volunteer in the BSA is not necessary because the BSA understands that, for the rank of Eagle, a Troop may wish to invite the head of its sponsoring organization, or the town’s mayor or police chief, or some other dignitary, to sit on that board, and so the registration restriction is dropped in this instance (but only this instance).

This means that even you, a registered committee member of Troop “A,” can’t legitimately sit on a board of review for Troop “B” for any rank from Tenderfoot through Life, plus Eagle palms. (If it’s for Eagle, no prob!)

“No policies or procedures”? Hardly! There they are—Spelled out by the BSA neat as a new-ironed neckerchief!

Dear Andy

Is there a knot in the works for those young men who have earned their Denali award? Or will there be another form to display the award on the uniform other than the medal? (Russell Smouse)

As you probably already know, the Denali Award for Varsity Scouts (only) is relatively new. The requirements are…

– Earn the Varsity Scout letter and then:

– Be registered as a Varsity Scout.

– Advance one rank toward Eagle, or earn an Eagle Palm.

– Hold a VS leadership position.

– Serve as a leader of an activity in two of the five fields of emphasis.
– Participate in an activity in the remaining three fields of emphasis.

– Satisfy to the team captain that you know the Varsity Scout Pledge.

– Complete a team board of review with a district/council representative.
On completion, there is a medal for the Denali Award, and your local council’s scout shop can give you “square knot” information.

Dear Andy,

Is there any person at the BSA’s national office who a person could write to, to ask a question about an award of merit? In my council, we have a parent who still feels that his son should have received a national-level award, and not just a council citation. This father says that he called the national office and told them about this situation, and the person he spoke with told him that his son should receive a national recognition, but the council didn’t send anything on to the national office and only gave the Scout a council recognition. When the father asked why the council did this, he didn’t get what he considered a clear answer. Since this happened, the boy has left Scouts and his father is still mad over this—to this day, he feels his son was cheated. (Percy Shackles)

Hey, it’s good to hear from you again! I’m glad to see you’re still reading, and writing! Ahhh, yes, I remember this one… This does go back a long way! Let’s take a moment to review…

There are two award “categories,” if you will. The first is in the area of saving life, and the second is for meritorious action that does not involve life-saving. In the first category—saving life—there are three levels: (1) the Heroism Award for saving (or attempting to save) life at minimal personal risk, (2) the Honor Medal for saving (or attempting to save) life at considerable personal risk, and (3) the Honor Medal With Crossed Palms for saving (or attempting to save) life at extreme personal risk. In the second category, for “meritorious service there are also three levels: (1) the Council Certificate of Merit for an act of service for which the council advancement committee does not feel qualifies for national recognition, (2) the National Certificate of Merit for an act of service that is deserving of special national recognition, and (3) the Medal of Merit for an act of service of a rare or exceptional character that reflects an uncommon degree of concern for the well-being of others. All of these descriptions have been taken—virtually word-for-word—from BSA literature (in other words, I’m neither making them up nor paraphrasing).

So, coming back to the situation you’ve described, if this father truly believes that his son’s actions, whatever they were, are worthy of national recognition, then he will be wasting time and energy appealing to the council-level advancement committee, because they have already reached a decision. The father may wish to exercise the rarely used option of writing directly to Mr. Terry Lawson, National Director of Advancement at the BSA’s national office in Irving, Texas. If the father chooses this option, he must remain not only cordial (that is, his letter must be absent any rancor about the local council level decision), but he must also remain absolutely factual (in other words, no rhetoric or hyperbole about how “selfless” or “brave” or whatever his son was). It would be helpful if the father can include names (actual statements are even better) of witnesses, beneficiaries, etc., which will corroborate his own statements. This may not change the situation, but at the very least the father can then rest perhaps more comfortably in the belief that every avenue has been attempted, and that he’s been as good a Dad as Dads can be.

I hope you will take the time to show what I’ve said here to this proud father. He needs to know, in the first place, that the council advancement committee is a group of volunteers who are making the very best decisions they’re capable of and would have no personal reason to “hold back” on applying for a national-level recognition if they truly believe the act or acts of this particular Scout warranted such application. He needs also to know that his own further pursuit, if he chooses such pursuit, may produce no results beyond those which have already happened. Finally in this regard, he needs to know that, being a parent of the young man at the center of this conversation, he may be carrying a bias of his own (which is perfectly understandable!).

Lastly, I would earnestly hope that this young man has left Scouting because he’s turned 18 years old and not because he’s somehow been himself poisoned by rancor or resentment on the part of his father or other family members… this would be the greatest and most pitiable loss.

If this father wants to write to me, personally, about what is was that his son did to warrant such a crusade by a parent, I’d be happy to offer the viewpoint of a volunteer Scouter who has served on the advancement committees in two councils for over 15 years, who has sat on the boards of review of nearly 200 Eagle Scouts, and who played a catalytic role, some years ago, in a Scout being awarded the National Honor Medal With Crossed Palms.

Dear Andy,

I handle the publicity in our Pack. A few times, photos were taken on trips, and a few of the Scouts weren’t in uniform. I’ve wrestled with sending in the photos to the newspaper because of this. Somewhere along the line, I received something suggesting that all Scouts in photos sent to newspapers, magazines etc. should be in uniform, so I’ve held off sending out a few press releases and I’m wondering if I’m doing the right thing. Do all Scouts need to be in uniform in order to have them published, even in local papers? (Maryann)

Yes, it’s always best to have photos of Scouts (any age) in full and complete uniform… Leaders, too! But, as you’ve probably seen, even in SCOUTING magazine, this isn’t always possible. Nonetheless, there are a few things you can do to encourage correct uniforming (and get better pictures, to boot!)…

– Position the Scouts who aren’t in full uniform behind others who are, so that their indiscretions are a little less in your face.

– Shoot “from the belt-up” shots (it’s usually the pants that are wrong).

– Tell both Cubs AND PARENTS in advance that you’ll be taking publicity photos ONLY of Cubs in full uniform, and watch what happens after the first time you move some boys out of the photo because they don’t have it right.

Now that third one may sound a little harsh, but I can tell you that I’ve personally actually done it, and although I got a few glares the first time I did it (the first time, some parents didn’t actually take me seriously), uniforming in our Pack took a giant leap forward, virtually overnight!

Happy Scouting!!


Got a question? Send it to me sure to let me know your Scouting position, town, state, and council!


(May 2005 – Copyright © 2005 Andy McCommish)


About AskAndy

Andy is a Board Member of the U.S. Scouting Service Project, Inc.

Andy has just received notification by his council Scout Executive that he is to be recognized as a National Distinguished Eagle Scout. He is currently serving as a Unit Commissioner and his council's International Representative. He has previously served in a number of other Scouting roles including Assistant Council Commissioner, Cubmaster, Scoutmaster, Den Leader, and--as a Scout--Patrol Leader, Senior Patrol Leader, and Junior Assistant Scoutmaster. His awards include: Kashafa Iraqi Scouting Service Award, Distinguished Commissioner, Doctor of Commissioner Science, International Scouter Award, District Award of Merit (2), Scoutmaster Award of Merit, Scouter's Key (3), Daniel Carter Beard Masonic Scouter Award, Cliff Dochterman Rotarian Scouter Award, James E. West Fellow (2), Wood Badge & Sea Badge, and Eagle Scout & Explorer Silver Award.

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